The very first viewing of the 2019 Nebraska football team happened Monday morning and the crown jewel of the 2019 recruiting class wasn’t on the field. The guy everyone in Husker nation can’t wait to see and the guy everyone in Husker media can’t stop asking about was walking around the Hawks Championship Center in shorts and a t-shirt.
We’re talking Wan’Dale Robinson, of course, the high 4-star pledge from Kentucky who looks like the next do-it-all dynamo at wideout and running back. Robinson didn’t participate in practice Monday, but head coach Scott Frost said after it was nothing serious — just a minor hamstring strain — and he actually thought Robinson was going to be back at practice already.
Funny enough, conspiracy theorists pegged the absence as an orchestrated attempt to slow a hype train for Robinson that’s picking up speed every day. We can’t go crazy over what we can’t see, and in a minimal contact, shoulder-pads-only kind of setting, it would be so easy for one of us to get carried away and write “Adrian Martinez has Heisman competition on his own team.”
Everyone at this point has heard the Rondale Moore comparisons. I literally wrote an entire piece about the similarity of their profiles (which I stand by, they’re both from Kentucky, both wideouts who can take handoffs, both matchup nightmares in the slot and both athletic freaks who can evade but also overpower). Robinson, as an early enrollee, will go through spring ball and play in the April 13 spring game and enter his true freshman season with excitement and expectations similar to what Martinez had as a quarterback last year.
Opportunity breeds that level of excitement, and with the departure of 1,000-yard receiver Stanley Morgan Jr., there’s plenty of opportunity in the Husker passing game. Only one wideout on the roster has ever caught a touchdown at Nebraska. If the Huskers wanted to force-feed Robinson the ball, he might be able to come close to having the same kind of success as Moore in his Big Ten Freshman of the Year season.
But it’s more likely the Huskers would prefer another path, one that allows the youngster to develop like normal, learn and just get better.
“I don’t need those guys to be All-Americans overnight, but I just want to see them improve,” Frost said, talking about not just Robinson but the wide receiver room as a whole.
Those conspiracy theories that Robinson didn’t practice in order to contain the hype are almost surely conspiracy theories, but they aren’t crazy.
“We’re taking it day-by-day,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said.
But here’s the thing that makes this situation so unique: you don’t want a freshman to feel this burden that he has to live up to a Rondale Moore or a Stanley Morgan Jr. right away, but Nebraska really and truly feels it has something special on its hands. When anyone on the staff or inside the locker room talks about Robinson, they just can’t help themselves.
“We’re not going to tell everybody he’s going to be an All-American, be the Heisman trophy winner, but he has the capabilities of being special,” Walters said. “The good thing is he wants to be great, it’s why he came to Nebraska. That’s what we sold him on, he was going to have an opportunity — we don’t give positions away — but he was going to have an opportunity to compete and have a prominent role in this offense. He’s embraced that and he works his tail off.
“He’s going to add a whole other element that we were lacking last year.”
On the very first day of spring ball, senior defensive lineman tweeted about Robinson.
Lil bro @wanda1erobinson Fast Fast 🏃🏾♂️💨.
— DJ (@DaiShonNeal9) March 4, 2019
On Monday, I asked senior wideout Mike Williams about the freshman and if he needs any help or advice at this point.
Williams just smiled.
“He’s got it,” he said. “He’s got it. I think he’s going to be a playmaker this year. … I think he’s up there with us, he’s got the offense, so he [doesn’t] really need that much help.”
Walters called him “the real deal,” saying he has all the physical tools necessary to play in the Big Ten right away and a strong understanding already of the playbook and where he’s supposed to be at any given time. He’s constantly in coaches’ offices and constantly in meeting rooms trying to learn. He had a strong first day and had a strong run until the hamstring strain. He’s going to contribute from Day 1, coaches say.
“He’s going to be all over the place,” Walters said.
The most encouraging thing about Robinson’s situation is his situation. He’s got a collection of veteran wideouts in J.D. Spielman, Williams and Jaron Woodyard and Kade Warner — guys at every level of their careers who have as diverse a collective playing background as you could get. He has an offensive coaching staff that is going on their fourth year together in the same system and knows exactly what they want from him and where he needs to be at in his development in order to have success. And he has a quarterback who just went through the same thing last season that he’s going through now, a guy he can lean on.
“He has a great head on his shoulders already and I can tell that,” Martinez said. “I’ll be there for him, whatever he needs, but I’m confident that he’s going to be able to keep working hard and accomplish what he wants to if he keeps that mindset.”
That, Walters says, will take him to the next level in Year 1.
So, try and contain the excitement surrounding the freshman. Try really hard. Convince yourself that he won’t even come close to the 1,471 all-purpose yards and the 14 touchdowns that Moore put up last season.
But know, Nebraska seems just as excited as you are.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.